Getting to Know Author Gina Marinello-Sweeney
NRT's JJ Francesco talked with the writer of I Thirst to see what inspired this Lenten-themed new book.

It's always fascinating when an exciting new author comes onto the scene. And in recent years, it's become even more feasible for new authors to break out, even without the aid of traditional publishing houses. Coming off of the recent season of Lent, I sat down with new author Gina Marinello-Sweeney to pick her brain about the publication of her first novel, a Lenten-themed character study called I Thirst

Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Ms. Marinello-Sweeney. I think it's safe to assume that most people aren't acquainted with your work yet. To start things off, could you give us a brief introduction into you as a writer?

Thank you for having me! I have been writing ever since I was a little girl. My devotion to the art began one afternoon when I finished reading the second book in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Spoiler alert: Peter and Susan can't go back to Narnia. I was traumatized and channeled my frustration into my pen. The result was "Gina's Trip to Narnia." While I had written other stories previously, this was the first one that really got me into writing as a form of expression. From then on, I would write short stories, and was eventually was drawn to writing poetry, as well. With a bedroom-turned-library of my stories, I dreamed of having my work eventually published. That dream came true last May, when my first complete novel was published.

That novel, I Thirst, takes some fairly huge stylistic risks with having a story within a story in the form of a play the main characters write. Describe the process that led to that inclusion. Which, if any models did you use as inspiration or example for incorporating that into a work of prose?

I knew that by incorporating different styles, I could possibly lose some of my audience. But I found that it was more important to do what was right for the story. While I did not intentionally mimic another author's style, I was inspired by Lucy Maud Montgomery's more lyrical style and old-fashioned storytelling and Madeleine L'Engle's occasional use of stream-of-consciousness. The purpose of the inner and outer stories was two-fold: To serve as a tool for plot development and insight into the "background" of writing.

I understand that I Thirst is set during Lent. Does the penitential nature of the Lenten season figure prominently in the themes of the story?

Yes. During the season, Rebecca is confronted with more than one personal "cross" to bear. Peter serves as a sort of human guardian angel, ever present throughout her struggles. But what Rebecca doesn't know is that her calm and collected new friend has some secrets of his own. As Easter approaches, Rebecca will discover more fully the meaning of love as sacrifice.

How does Rebecca the character relate to Gina the writer?

We both are drawn to the more poetic side of writing, reveling in some sort of romantic reality of a bygone age. In addition, I could relate to her nature. She is the kind of person who feels things deeply (if, at times, quietly). 

How has it been getting the novel out to readers and attracting a growing fan base? How much have you interacted with readers either personally or via social media?

I have had the pleasure of communicating with some of my fans, especially those from Taylor Swift once said, "I've never been the type of artist who has that line drawn between their friends and their fans. The line's always been really blurred for me." That is so true. Those who find something in I Thirst, who can relate to a project so close to my heart, instantly become a sort of "friend." Whenever people come to me and tell me that they appreciated I Thirst or thank me for writing it, I feel that I have done something right--not because I am one of the greats, but because the story spoke to them in some way, in a way that perhaps was universal but uniquely their own all the same. I put out my story, but the readers made it their own.

There can often be such a huge disconnect between fans and creators.

As a busy person myself, I can certainly relate. Still, I want to be the sort of artist that fans know will talk to them when possible. I want to be approachable. After all that they have done for me, I feel that I owe it to them.

I hear you're working on a sequel to I Thirst. Is there anything you can share about that?

There will be a significant departure in tone and focus because every literary voyage is different. I Thirst is a quiet, intimate journey meant to reflect the season in which it is told. While there is outer conflict in the novel, the focus is more aligned with inner tension. The sequel, however, will be more about exterior conflict. It is crafted on a wider, but still personal, scale. There is a clearly defined battle between good and evil. The characters that you grew to know in I Thirst will find their lives in peril, in more than one sense of the word.

About a year ago, you secured publication for I Thirst from a fledging press called Rivershore Books. From what I understand, this press isn't quite like any other. Could you explain your experience?

Rivershore Books is very unique. It is a small publisher with a key focus on individualized attention in a more personal rather than distant way. Certainly any publisher would require individualized attention with its authors, but in this case, it was a goal rather than a means to an end. Rivershore is open to input in regards to book design and other aspects of the publication process, which is not very common with many publishing companies. I felt like it was still my book, rather than something over which I had little control once I passed it on to the publisher. 

Do you have any sort of writing pet peeves?

Outlines. I'm not the kind of writer who can sit down and plan the story from beginning to end from the start. I have writer-friends who do that--and it works great for them--but it's not really my style. I'm more spontaneous when it comes to the writing process. I certainly will occasionally use a sort of "outline" or note-taking to help organize my thoughts, but it doesn't define my writing process. 

I couldn't agree with you more there. I have never and will never like rigorous outlining. On another note, do you see your work as exclusive aimed at a Christian audience or do you think it could have crossover and maybe even a degree of evangelistic appeal?

While elements may appeal to a Christian audience, I don't wish for I Thirst to be exclusive. The novel may be deemed accessible to a wider audience due to its universal themes. Readers from diverse backgrounds have enjoyed the book.

How about we do a quick series of rapid fires before we go? First, what's a song that you'd put on a soundtrack for I Thirst?

Soundtrack? "Safe and Sound" by Taylor Swift and the Civil Wars. "What Faith Can Do" by Kutless.

What genre would you like to take a crack at writing that you haven't yet?

Science fiction. Technically I delved into that a bit, but not very much, so I guess it counts. I love time travel stories. Have an idea for a story. I always have too many projects at once. Maybe mystery. Never horror, though. 

First choice to play Rebecca should they ever make an I Thirst movie?

Rachel Hendrix.

Author who's had the most influence on your work?

That's tough... Maybe Lucy Maud Montgomery.

What are you reading now?

Rapunzel Let Down by Regina Doman.

What's your favorite single line that you've ever written? 

Not sure. Maybe the last line of I Thirst. You'll have to read the book to find out what that is.

Thank you, Ms. Marinello-Sweeney, for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. What advice would you give to aspiring writers that you don't think they're likely to hear from the sources available to them?

Thank you for having me. It has been a pleasure! My answer may sound cliché, but I would advise that they find their writing voice. It must be authentic in order for a piece to work. At the same time, though, they shouldn't be afraid to explore new territory, whether it be a different writing style (that still speaks to them) or a crazy story idea. And never care about being popular. The only way that your work will truly find an audience is if it is genuine.

JJ Francesco loves good music, a good book, and talking about either. He lives in the Philadelphia area.

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